Dimensions of impact of teacher research engagement: Institutional leaders’ perceptions

Year: 2018

Author: Edwards, Emily

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Conducting research is considered an important aspect of teachers’ continuing professional development, as well as a potential catalyst for on-going individual and collaborative development. A growing number of studies in the area of language teaching have explored teachers’ perceptions and experiences of research engagement, and found benefits such as the development of confidence, autonomy, and research and leadership skills (Edwards & Burns, 2016; Wang & Zhang, 2014). However, most of these studies focus on the micro (individual) level of teacher development, with little attention paid to the meso (institutional) and macro (broader sector) levels of development. The meso and macro levels of impact are particularly important to understand in terms of the sustainability of teacher research engagement. In addition, few studies have explored institutional leaders’ perceptions of language teacher research engagement, which is surprising since leaders can be highly influential in encouraging and sustaining such engagement in research (Borg, 2013). Therefore, this qualitative study sought to address these gaps by investigating the impact of teacher research engagement holistically, and focused on institutional leaders’ perceptions.
The study explored the impact of an annual nine-month action research program in Australia on the participating English language teachers, from the perspective of institutional leaders. Action research is a specific form of teacher research, which follows cycles of planning, acting, observing and reflecting on practice in order for teachers to improve or better understand a classroom issue. The qualitative study which investigated this action research program adopted an ecological perspective on impact, following van Lier (2004, 2008, 2011), in order to encompass micro, meso and macro levels of development. Semi-structured interviews were held with nine institutional leaders across Australia in English language centres from which teachers had previously engaged in the action research program. An ecological analysis of the interview data revealed four key perceptions about the positive influences of language teacher action research engagement: (1) empowering and engaging teachers professionally (micro level), (2) creating roles models for other teachers (meso level), (3) increasing the status and reputation of institutions, and (4) contributing to the professionalism of the sector (both macro level). The findings suggest that an ecological perspective is a highly useful lens for understanding teacher and school development, as well as how sustainability of teacher research engagement might be encouraged.